Sparked by a number of infant drowning deaths, children in these communities, in collaboration with INFANT, have formed a program called Niños al Rescate—Children to the Rescue—through which they undergo search, rescue and first aid training. Pedro Paredes, a soil scientist and conservationist who also works with INFANT and these riverside communities, draws a parallel to this program when he tells me about his own pilot project in 8 de Diciembre: Niños al Rescate y Cuidado de los Bosques—Children to the Rescue and Care of the Forests. In both programs, he affirms, children are taught to care for, and even save, other lives.
Niños al Rescate y Cuidado de los Bosques is an attempt to confront the deforestation occurring in 8 de Diciembre, a result of both the flooding and the inhabitants’ many uses of the trees—such as for firewood, charcoal, and construction. Each week, community members go out in search of seedlings that can be saved, focusing on the species most used by the communities. They then move these to the recently-constructed Vivero Forestal de la Ternura—Forest Nursery of Tenderness—where they will grow for about a year, until they are transplanted to their new, old home in the forest. The project is an effort to preserve the biodiversity of the forest, while also ensuring future generations can make use of its abundance for their daily needs.
Each week, one parent from the community becomes guide and professor for the day. This parent chooses which trees will be saved and leads the charge, teaching the children about the plants around them as they make their way through the forest and then to the nursery. Parents and grandparents get to transmit valuable knowledge to their children, emphasizes Pedro, while spending quality time together—and saving plants from impending death. The children grow aware of the importance of the forest and its conservation, while getting to see their parents as teachers, illuminating some of the workings, and magic, of the world around them.
This morning, the Niños al Rescate y Cuidado de los Bosques rescued Capinuri and Catahua trees. Each child helped tightly pack a seedling in a bag full of soil, then wrote his or her name, plus the name of the plant, on the bag’s label. Each one knows how many trees he or she has saved so far, and the nursery continues to fill with shades of green—cedar leaves, capinuri leaves, catahua leaves, and, of course, the neon green labels on which these young people proudly claim responsibility for the forest that is, and the ones that will be.